Friday, September 30, 2011

Signs and Symptoms of Food Allergies

The most popular questions sent to Fun Without Food are in regards to food allergies, their signs, symptoms, how to seek medical help and advice, and how to make changes to the diet.  Consider this Part One:  Signs and Symptoms.

Signs of food allergies are not cut and dry.  There can be multiple symptoms.  Some children show all symptoms, others show only one or two.  In some cases, children may not show any visible symptoms.

There are many websites that explain what I am about to explain, click on this to see my favorite.  But, it's also nice to read it, written by someone who has experienced almost all of it and then some. Remember symptoms may take up to two hours to show themselves after contact or ingestion.  In rare cases symptoms may take more time to appear.

The most common food allergy symptoms include:

1. Tingling or itching in the mouth.

Make a note, that as a parent, we can not see this reaction in our children.  If they are infants and/or toddlers they will not be able to communicate this symptom.  Most often as a parent, you will notice extreme irritability and perhaps a refusal to eat.  If the child is older, they may try to itch their mouths or express that it hurts or feels funny.

2. Hives Itching or Eczema.

In my experience, eczema is one of the number one indicators that an infant has food allergies, especially if they are extremely irritable.  It may be hard to discover what food is causing the eczema, but once it's found, improvements in the skin are amazing.  Eczema can just be eczema too, and is not always an indicator, but I have only met one person who had eczema who hadn't been diagnosed with food allergies, especially in children.  Eczema can occur anywhere on the body.  My first child had eczema. At two he was diagnosed with allergies.

Hives is a very popular reaction in children.  Usually it is the first sign that is taken seriously by parents and caregivers.  Still at times it can be confused with other rashes on the skin.  Hives do not always occur where the food allergen makes contact with skin.

Itching can occur without hives.  The itchy spot can be anywhere on the body.  There are many other reasons a child may be itching, but once you have eliminated environmental and emotional factors, food allergies can be the reason.  Infants may not be able to itch, and may only show extreme irritability.

Though, not listed, I would like to add diaper rashes to this section.  Five out of six babies I have cared for have had food allergies.  The first symptom visible was a reoccurring diaper rash.  After switching diapers, trying all lotions and ointments, it was discovered that food was the cause.

3.  Swelling of lips, face, tongue, and throat, or other parts of the body.

Beware!  Swelling of the lips, face, throat, and especially the eyes can lead to an anaphylaxis reaction in a matter of seconds and should be taken very seriously.  Benadryl is usually the best way to stop the reaction from worsening.  Check with your doctor for dosage amounts.

Parents often don't catch the swelling of the tongue and throat, because they aren't visible.  If you child starts to speak differently or their voice changes in any way, these may be indicators of this type of reaction.  Often times a child will have difficulty swallowing and/or breathing.  At times their voice may become hoarse.

My second child has swelling of his internal digestive track every time he has an allergic reaction to a food. As an infant, when this would occur, he would arch back and become as stiff as a board.  Similar symptoms occur in reflux babies and children having seizures.  It was only after those were ruled out that his food allergies were discovered.  Swelling of the internal digestive track can and did lead to vomiting in my second child.

4.  Wheezing, nasal congestion, or trouble breathing.

These symptoms are most commonly associated with environmental allergies, but they can also be signs of food allergies.  My third child was constantly sick, with what appeared to be colds.  She did show other symptoms of food allergies.  We were surprised at how quickly her cold like symptoms disappeared when she was diagnosed, the food was removed from her diet, and she started using an inhaler twice a day.

5. Abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting.

This symptom is usually associated more with food intolerances, but should be taken more seriously in regards to food allergies.  In less than 24 hours after birth my second child was having massive diarrhea bowel movements every hour.  The smell was obnoxious.  He could not sleep because of his abdominal pain.  When he started solids he instantly began vomiting.  After two weeks of no sleep and a very irritable baby, we went to the doctor and had his stool tested.  This was our first indication of a milk protein allergy.

At six months, my third child was having six to ten bowel movements a day.  The smell was foul!  Her only other symptoms of food allergies were diaper rashes and nasal congestion.  She was referred to a gastroenterologist first.  They ran tests and had an upper GI scope done.  It was there they noticed eosinophils in her stomach.  Eosinophils are a sign of food allergies.  We were then referred to an allergist where they discovered multiple food allergies. Within a matter of days her bowel movements were reduced to one to two a day.

Remember, as a parent you can not see abdominal pain or nausea in infants and sometimes toddlers.  Instead you will mostly likely notice a hard stomach and/or extreme irritability.

6.  Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting
The only experience I have with this symptom is in regards to my second child.  When he has an allergic reaction he is the most clumsy kid I have ever seen. At times he appears to be staring into space.  Other times he can barely walk straight.

This symptom can lead to anaphylaxis in a matter of seconds so it is important to treat it immediately.

7. Anaphylaxis

In some people, a food allergy can trigger a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis.  Untreated anaphylaxis can cause comma or death.  The Mayo Clinic lists these life threatening symptoms:

A. Constriction and tightening of airways

B. A swollen throat or the sensation of a lump in your throat that makes it difficult to breathe.

C. Shock, with a severe drop in blood pressure.

D. Rapid pulse.

E.  Dizziness, lightheadedness, or loss of consciousness.

In children it may be very difficult to notice the onset of some of these symptoms.  Other times the child's face may swell extensively.  It is extremely important to carry a prescription Epi-pen at all times if there is possibility that a child may have a severe reaction.

Questions and Discussion:

1. How did you first discover that your child was having an allergic reaction to a food? Did someone else notice symptoms first? How long had the symptoms been occurring before you made the connection to food?

2. Has your child ever gone into an anaphylaxis reaction due to something he or she ate or inhaled? How quickly did the reaction come on and how long did it take to recover from it? Ever had to use your Epi-pen?

3. Are there any other symptoms that you saw in your child that alerted you to a possible food allergy, not listed above?


  1. Perfect timing...I am planning on asking my doc about possible food allergies for my youngest. How did you get your children diagnosed? Any allergist I have talked to says skin tests aren't done (or very rarely) and often have false negatives. Ethan has been congested since birth, gets sick often, had eczema really bad for the first year(rarely gets its no though), and gets diaper rash often. I know those can be symptoms of just about anything...but I want to figure out if food can fix it. Just don't know where to start except trial and error-taking things away. I know milk is most common but who knows if that's what it is.

  2. For us it was excessive vomiting and eczema all over his body especially his face. My doctor tried to convince me that he had acid reflux and his skin lacked medical cream. She only tested him for allergies after I insisted when he was 12 months.